Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins in Noah
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronosky and Ari Handel
Russell Crowe as Noah
Jennifer Connelly as Naameh (his wife)
Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain
Anthony Hopkins as Methusela
Emma Watson as Ila
Logan Lerman as Ham
Douglas Booth as Shem
It’s pissing with rain. The savage army of Tubal-Cain is all set to attack the wooden container ship, sorry ark. Russell Crowe as Noah is charging through the rain shouting “Ham! Ham! Ham!” The exact same thought was running through my mind watching his performance. I think it was supposed to be a cry for his middle son, Ham, rather than a moment of wild and honest insight into the nature of his own role.
The basic story is, face it, implausible. But we all had a toy Noah’s Ark, and marched our wooden animals in two by two. It’s sweet. New research places the story long before the Genesis version, and a flood myth runs through many societies. There’s mileage in the tale. The dove, the getting stuck on Mount Ararat, the three sons, a white one (Japeth), a light brown one (Shem) and the father of all Africa, Ham. Then add in a bit of low comedy from medieval mystery tales where Noah is a drunk and Mrs Noah a scold. Unfortunately there’s none of that in this abysmal piece of guff.
We are in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, where in ten generations humanity has gone from Adam & Eve (pre-credits) to industrialized, and destroyed all the trees and fallen to savagery and mayhem and murder. The vegetarian RSPCA card-holding Noahs are wandering in the wilderness, burying the odd feathered and scaled mammal killed by the meat-eating descendants of Cain. and doing so with a moving little ceremony. They honour all living things. Among this lot stride fallen angels. Maybe the idea owed something to the Hebrew tales of The Gollum, but far more to the rock monsters in the film version of The Lord of The Rings. These rocky fellows, The Watchers, turn out to assist Noah, and build the ark for him. It was a major error to schedule the trailer for the Transformers movie right before Noah, because they are indeed stone Transformers. There’s silly, extremely silly and extremely f*cking silly, and the Watchers are in the third category.
The leader of the savage hordes is Tubal-Cain, or Ray Winstone. I’ll bleedin’ swing for you, Noah, you slag! he cries. Well, not actually, but you expect him to any minute. The Creator, as being an Old Testament tale, they avoid naming the unameable, is an important character who sends messages to Noah in dreams, but seems inextricably confused in this version with Noah’s granddad, Methusela, played by Anthony Hopkins, initially as a Welsh geriatric, but after the several years have passed in building the ark, thus allowing the Noah lads to reach puberty, the Welsh has gone, and been replaced by slightly Jewish.
Puberty! Ah, they rescue Ila, a girl, early on. Ila is played by Emma Watson, who must have hoped it would be a good film when she foolishly accepted the part. As the ark’s getting finished, the younger lads realize that while Shem, a beauteous but largely silent youth, is getting his end away with the barren Ila, they are destined to sail into the distance forever unrequited in love, or lust, as the patriarchal Noah’s intent is for the human race to die out. Bear with me if you find this at odds with the Biblical text. There’s more to come. Ham in particular is mightily pissed off, and when he finds a nice girl in a pit full of skulls, as one does in dystopias, and tries to rescue her, dad declines to help and the nice girl is trampled to death by the savage hordes. Now Ham is REALLY pissed off and helps Tubal-Cain stow away on the ark. No, I don’t remember that bit from Genesis either, but maybe it was on one of their earlier LPs. Ray aka Tubal-Cain is planning to slaughter that slag Noah.
They’ll end up related in more ways than one:
Japeth, Naameh, Shem and Ila
The Noah family is the family that plays together stays together, and Ham and Japeth set forth on the ocean without wives, unlike the Good Book, or rather the better-than-this book. The problem of repopulating the world afterwards will be solved by Ila giving birth to twin girls. Methusela has magic powers, a bit like The Creator, and has solved the problem of her infertility. You can see someone has been reading Freud as a key to Old Testament family relations. Mind you, Ham the wanderer wanders off for a wander. Ham was used by pro-slavery writers in the USA to justify slavery, incidentally. Though one must applaud Ham’s choice of the wilderness over waiting … well, let’s not speculate on how many years … to mate with a niece. So off he sets into a world where not one person has survived to find a female partner … there’s a flaw there, but it won’t come to me.
The ark itself was profoundly disappointing. The populating of the ark with birds was excellent SFX, then the reptiles slithering forward weren’t bad. The mammals was a fuzzy soft focus parade, and THERE WERE NO GIRAFFES! Every kid knows you had to turn a giraffe at 45° to get its wooden body into your ark through the door. You can’t have the animals going in two by two without giraffes. And the elephants were a fuzzy blur. Loading the mammals was crap. On crap, the problems of feeding animals, slopping out daily mountains of excrement and stopping the lions eating the sheep, and the horses copulating with the donkeys to produce mules, were solved. Mrs Noah had a green leaf, which looked like mint. She put it in a frying pan, then in incense tray. By walking through the hold of the ship wafting this about, all the animals were put into a deep sleep. Though while it could anaesthesize elephants, it had no effect on the humans.
After the flood … they’re on a beach. It looks incredibly like the end of the original Planet of The Apes where Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison (as the dumb girl, Nova), are about to have to repopulate the world. Ah! Charlton Heston! Surely the missing ingredient was Charlton Heston as God. Kirk Douglas would have been a fine Noah in his day, and there was a nod to that too. The two note theme as the flood takes over, repeated often later, is very much like the OD-IN! OD-IN! bit running through The Vikings. The music is ludicrously overblown, which means it’s rather more subtle than the story or acting.
At the end, they have a couple of minutes of the drunken Noah … not only have the waves receded off this bit of land fast, but growing grapes are already on hand to ferment. There was the original Biblical reference to a drunken Noah,which was picked up by those medieval mystery plays, where the 14th and 15th century knew that the basic silliness of the story rendered it best done as a comic interlude in the Bible story. There wasn’t much point here, except to show his guilt at wanting to slaughter his granddaughters to wipe out humanity. But it was also a sudden burst of fidelity to the Genesis account:
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren
That scene with the garment is re-enacted on the beach, though covering carefully rather than walking backwards. Obviously, they skipped the bit about Ham having a nipper called Canaan, as is this version he was still a virgin, but that was the section of the Bible which was used as a justification for chattel slavery from the 17th to 19th centuries … Africans were descendants of Ham and Canaan thus condemned to eternal servitude. It’s hard to see why glimpsing Noah’s ancient member should be regarded as such a sin or so unusual when the whole family resided much of the time in a small Mongolian yurt. And we don’t see Russell’s appendage, thankfully, as our seats were only six feet from the huge screen (the cinema was full and we got tickets late), and the average on-screen nose was about our own height. However, there are all sorts of explanations including one that Ham may have had incestuous relations with his mother in the bid to re-populate, and others that “saw the nakedness” means either “castrated” or “sodomized.” I told you it was a close family. Anyway, Ham got cursed.
It’s a box office smash hit. What would a Biblical epic be without that laughable Samson & Delilah effect? Camilla Long said in The Sunday Times:
The posters served only to confuse, describing the film as “the epic story of one man and the most remarkable event in history.” The fact that someone thought Noah might actually be “history” seemed almost touching.
It doesn’t seem to have caused that much religious furore either, but I guess the Creationists see it as a documentary, or history, and Judaism likes anything about being especially chosen by the Creator (as we shall now call the deity) and getting it down to a Chosen Six is even more selective than a Chosen People. On these grounds eliminating the two wives of Noah’s sons refines the Genesis account of a Chosen Eight, making them even more chosen.
Basically, they’re all just pleased to be mentioned at all by anyone in any context.
What surprises me is the number of reviews that used words like provocative, challenging, ground-breaking, original, innovative. My list started with preposterous, and ran through ridiculous to silly. The dialogue was dreadful too. Let’s be generous. We weren’t bored, mainly because we were mentally listing the ludicrous plot points, and grudgingly one has to admit that Russell Crowe does tough, obsessive patriarchal very well, so it wasn’t dull. But plot is so bad that it gets … a full one star.